Ever since Amy invited me to contribute to Sound It Out, I have wanted to write about the upcoming reissue of Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain. I have avoided doing so until now because I don’t know how to write about grief. I cannot properly narrate my own or anyone’s else despair, but Jason Molina could. His songs gave poetic voice to sorrow and acknowledged both the necessity and the laboriousness of fighting back our demons, whatever they might be.
When Molina, the singer-songwriter behind Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., died in 2013 from alcohol abuse-related organ failure, his songs took on an even greater poignancy. I don’t know if they should, but they did, and you can’t listen to Didn’t It Rain’s “Blue Chicago Moon” with its repeated refrain of “you are not helpless” without your heart breaking all over again.
I was a member of the cult of Jason Molina. His songs “Captain Badass” and “Lioness” were playlist perennials for me throughout the early-aughts, and I never understood why he wasn’t more well-known than he was. The melancholy his death provoked in me and many people I know was strange. We were fans. We didn’t know him, but it wasn’t quite like the weird, collective grieving that happens via social media when a celebrity dies. It felt more personal, and that’s probably because it was. To be a fan of Jason Molina meant seeing him more than once in bars no bigger than an RV with only four other diehards in the crowd. And, music, of course, is intimate. Singing from the specificity of his own sadness, he connected with ours.
I don’t want to give the impression that listening to his music is something you should reserve for your darkest days. Yes, Molina gave us beautiful, heavy songs for beautiful, heavy times, but he also gave us his own brand of Rust Belt mythology, lyrics—both metaphorical and direct—that captured love’s fervor, and hope—lots of hope. His yearning tenor could be a lifeline reminding us to be forever courageous (and that we shouldn’t be embarrassed by using words like “courageous” to describe what it takes to get through the day sometimes).
If you don’t know Molina’s music, Didn’t It Rain is a fine place to start. The good people at Secretly Canadian have repackaged the album with a second disc of never-before-released demos recorded in Molina’s Chicago apartment. With no overdubs and the musicians literally making it up as they went along, Didn’t It Rain approaches lo-fi masterpiece status. The deluxe edition will be released on December 2.